Bamboozled: When T-Mobile doesn't answer call for help

George Del Duca, 87, isn't a big cell phone user.

There would be no smart phones or expensive plans for him.

Del Duca simply wanted a cheap plan that allowed for calls and texts, and he didn't want data.

So the Berkeley Heights man purchased an Android ZTE-Cymbal flip phone -- a T-Mobile-branded device -- from Walmart on Oct. 13.

Del Duca's nephew David Bosefskie helped with the setup.

"We called the phone number given on the forms to set up the phone, installing the SIM card, along with a pre-paid card for 100 minutes of air time and the phone was properly charged," Bosefskie said. "The phone was used twice following the setup without any problems."

But on Oct. 27, nothing happened when Del Duca tried to power up the phone, Bosefskie said.

So Bosefskie helped. He plugged in the phone, and after 30 minutes, he tried to turn it on, he said.

It wouldn't turn on.

Bosefskie and Del Duca returned to Walmart, but the retailer said they'd have to contact T-Mobile.

The pair stopped at the T-Mobile store in Union, Bosefskie said, but employees were unable to help.

After returning home, Bosefskie called the T-Mobile customer service number and was transferred to tech support, he said.

After following the tech person's instructions, the phone still didn't turn on, so T-Mobile told Bosefskie to send the phone to the company's return center in Texas, he said.  

Bosefskie and his uncle mailed the phone on Oct. 29, paying $9.02 in postage. They were given a tracking number.

Del Duca called customer service on Nov. 18 for an update on the phone. The rep said they would check, and put him on hold. The call was disconnected.

Cell phone switch trashes customer's credit

Del Duca called again, and this time was sent to the "troubleshooting department." A rep said they couldn't locate the phone.

He tried again on Nov. 29. This time he was told he'd receive a replacement phone in seven to 14 days.

No phone was delivered.

He called several times to report the phone didn't arrive. On one occasion, he was disconnected after waiting on hold for 55 minutes. The other times, no rep seemed to have an answer, Bosefskie said.

Finally on Dec. 19, Bosefskie spoke to a supervisor who promised to look into the situation. In a second call, the supervisor said he was still looking for answers.   

A week passed and T-Mobile didn't call back with an update.

Bosefskie and Del Duca had enough.

They wrote a letter to T-Mobile executives, dated Dec. 26, asking for Del Duca's phone to be returned. They figured they'd be better off negotiating a return or exchange with a Walmart manager.

And they reached out to Bamboozled.

LOOKING FOR A HAPPY ENDING

We sent a note to T-Mobile to ask it to review the case.

The very next day, Bosefskie got a call from a T-Mobile rep.

"She offered to send out a new phone -- a smart phone -- as the flip phones are being phased out and they do not have any in their stock," Bosefskie said.

First the rep offered Del Duca a Samsung phone, but his nephew said no because of past battery fire issues.

Instead, they agreed on an LG.

Next, they negotiated what kind of service the phone would have because Del Duca didn't want to spend a lot.

They agreed on a plan that costs $3 per month. It included 30 "units" that could be used for voice minutes or texts. Any additional use would cost 10 cents per minute or per message.

T-Mobile also gave Del Duca a $100 courtesy credit to use towards him monthly $3 charge.

The new phone was scheduled to arrive on Jan. 5.

We checked in with T-Mobile about this seemingly happy ending.

"Our customer service team tells me that this was resolved to the customer's satisfaction," the spokeswoman said, not offering any more detail.  

No service after T-Mobile promises coverage

The phone arrived a day early, but there was a new problem.

Bosefskie said he installed the SIM card and contacted customer service to activate the phone.

But the phone wouldn't activate.

He called T-Mobile for help.

"I was told the SIM card has expired and cannot be used," he said.

We sent an update to the T-Mobile spokeswoman. She said the customer service team was looking at the situation.

"The expired SIM card is frustrating and shows lack of control of keeping inventory current, and the executive staff having no idea what is going on... a waste of my time," he said.

Another rep contacted Bosefskie and said a new SIM card would be delivered, and he should call her to set up the phone.

When the card arrived, the rep activated the card from her end.

But it wouldn't work.

"I called the rep back and three more attempts were made to activate the phone," Bosefskie said. "When that failed, I stated they need to issue a new phone, set up the SIM card and activate the network on their end to make sure the phone is working, then they are to overnight it to me with a return label so I can send back the non-functioning phone."

The rep said sure, but she first had to get approval from her supervisor.

The approval was granted. The rep and her tech team set up the phone, tested it and shipped it.

Del Duca received the phone the next day.

This one seemed to work.

"I added Uncle George's contacts and now he is a happy camper," Bosefskie said. "He said he hopes it works."

We thought that was the end of it.

George Del Duca tries to recharge his phone. Even though it was fully charged when it was powered down days before, the phone's battery was dead. Andrew Miller/For NJ Advance Media 

A few days later, our photographer visited Del Duca's home to get some photos to go with this story.

The phone didn't work.

Bosefskie said when the photographer asked them to turn the phone on. It came on for a few seconds but then went dark.

They plugged it in, and it showed the battery was dead.

Perhaps the "new" phone had an old battery. The pair said the phone was fully charged six days before when Del Duca, who doesn't use it often, powered it down. It was on his dresser, always off, until it was needed for the photo.

"Uncle George is disgusted and says next time the phone is not working, it's being tossed in garbage and he's going with major carriers like Verizon or AT&T," Bosefskie said, noting he didn't want to talk to T-Mobile again. "Uncle George may just use the minutes left in account, then crush phone until he decides if he wants to try another group."

We let T-Mobile know what happened, and Bosefskie emailed with a rep who offered advice on making sure the battery stays charged, and also a $150 reimbursement if they wanted to purchase a phone elsewhere.

Del Duca declined, saying he'll live with it for now and decide later if he wants to make a change.

So much for that happy ending.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com's weekly e-newsletter.

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